View Full Version : The Risks Of Working People

15th July 2011, 12:15 AM
Imagine the following scenarios.

First, you are a fire-service officer and while fighting a fire, you fall to your death. Surely, you expect the government to compensate your family. Right? Well, chances are that the government will not do much for your family.

Second, you are a young twenty-something year-old lady who has finished training as a Community Health Nurse and you are informed that you need to learn how to ride a motor-bike. Unfortunately, while learning to ride the motor-bike, you are involved in an accident and get paralyzed from the waist down. Surely, your government has in place some insurance to take care of you till the end of your days, you think. Well, wrong again. I just met a lady in just such a situation and despite the generosity of individual government officials; she has nothing in place to take care of her.


Third, you work at a Mental Health Hospital and while taking care of a patient, a patient attacks you and you end up permanently disabled. Surely, our government would take care of you, won’t it? Wrong again. There is no formal insurance policy or arrangement to take care of you in this situation.

Indeed, the first and third situations that I have described have already been covered in the news and I am a witness to the second case.

Mrs. Hannah Yawson, a fire-service officer fell in 2010 and later died of her injuries. In a Joyfm report, “Alhaji Sorogo, Chair of the Fire Service Council, promised that the family of Mrs. Yawson would be properly catered for because she died in the course of duty.”
This suggests that it would require a special intervention by the Council to get the Yawsons catered for--- there is no standing arrangement or policy to deal with such a situation.

Speaking about the hazards faced by nurses and other workers at Pantang Psychiatric hospital, a Senior Nursing Officer, Mrs. Victoria Gbeklo, said “those brought to the hospital these days are mostly aggressive drug addicts who cannot live a day without drugs and thus turn violent to look for drugs.” She went on to cite instances in which employees have been attacked at work.

What I have just described refers to the very government that is enjoined by our constitution to protect us. Since our governments, past and present have shown such willful negligence in protecting us, how will it protect us when we work for private companies? The sad answer is that by and large, we stand naked before businesses and industries, both foreign and domestic. Recently, there was the report of one of our oil rigs developing some problems. If something bad had happened, would there have been rules and regulations in place to protect the workers? In 2005, there was no national policy in place on Occupational Health and Safety despite a draft policy developed at the dawn of the new millennium. Indeed, out of the over seventy ILO conventions related to Occupational and Health Safety, only about ten had been ratified in 2005, according to some outstanding research done by Drs Amponsah Tawiah and Dartey-Baah, both of the University of Ghana. According to the experts, even the 4 core ILO conventions on labour, (155, 161, 170 and 174); have all not been ratified by Ghana. Indeed, the Labour Act of 2003 appears to be based, partly on conventions that we had not ratified. The main anchors of our protections for working people, the Factories, Offices and Shops Act of 1970, (Act 328) and the Workman’s Compensation Law of 1987, PNDC Law 187, have significant gaps. These laws did not adequately cover agricultural and construction workers or workers in the informal sector. Obviously, given the importance of Agriculture and the informal sector in our economy, Occupational Health and Safety laws that ignore them are for practical purposes, largely cosmetic. Adding insult to injury, our laws are inadequate in requiring prevention of injuries as well as medical surveillance.
These weak laws are compounded by inadequate personnel to help organizations comply with our laws or to hold defaulters to account. Indeed, in 2007, according to the Legon experts I have already referred to, Ghana had only 4 Occupational Medicine Physicians.

Given the importance of work in all our lives, protections at work are very necessary.

Financially, it is estimated that reduced working capacity from injury and death may lead to a loss of between 10 and 20% of GNP. In addition to the deaths and disabilities of work, it stands to reason that a government that is unwilling or unable to protect working people from the hazards of work will be unable or unwilling to protect its environment from the hazards of industrialization.

Sadly, as our population grows and we seek to improve our economy, more and more of us will seek to get into the work force, increasing our exposure to harm as we seek to earn a decent living. Speaking of work hazards, former UN Chief Kofi Annan said “Safety and Health at work is not only a sound policy—it is a basic human right.”
Are we providing Ghanaians with this basic right?

How can we improve the safety of our working people all across the society, consistent with the requirements of our constitution and the dignity of every person?

First, we must ratify the relevant UN Conventions with all deliberate speed.

Second, our government must do for public employees, what decency requires that it requires of all private employers. There must be Disability and Death Benefits for government employees who risk their lives to do the public’s business—like nurses, fire-fighters, teachers, doctors, police and others. While on the government, it is sad that Parliament, which is the peoples’ representatives, have been largely inactive in this important area. It must be demanding accountability from our governments on how Ghanaians who work in farms, in mining, in oil and public institutions are being protected.

Third, since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, government must work with industry to increase safety training for employees and other safety professionals as well as surveillance to ensure compliance with reasonable safety rules.

Fourth, the Trades Union Congress and other professional associations must put worker-safety at the top of their agendas. In many cases, the benefits that accrue from better work-place protection may be more significant than the pay increases which they focus on. Sometimes, protections at work and compensation when needed might be more significant than pay.

Fifth, the advances that societies like the United States have made have been made in part, as a result of the willingness of people to go to court for compensation when they are harmed at work. I urge the legal community to give more emphasis to this area and be willing to represent little people in their admittedly “David versus Goliath” fights against big companies and government. The employees in the cases that I have cited and/or their families would all have won significant compensation against the government. I urge that the legal fraternity give attention to representing indigents in such cases and educating the public about the rights of working people—to safety and in case of injury or death, to compensation, following mishaps at work.

Subsequently, the government, acting from public pressure and the cost would be more attentive to the safety of its employees.

Next, the media, whenever such cases come to light, must follow them with the same tenacity with which they follow politics. To take up the case of Mrs. Yawson’s family or that of the beautiful nurse who got paralyzed riding a motor bike would exemplify the best in journalism and our humanity. When the media give more attention to such cases, they will be making Ghana better and our people safer. Furthermore, they will literally be doing God’s work here on earth.

In addition to the above measures, our insurance companies must be encouraged and assisted with progressive laws and tax changes to aggressively market disability and retirement benefits to Ghanaian businesses, beginning with the largest employer of all, the government.

Finally, all of us must stand up for those amongst us who unfortunately, meet tragedy at work, like the ones I have described. Certainly, if ever there were the need for a “Heroes Fund” these are the legitimate, uncontroversial heroes, whose celebration and support would ennoble all of us. If ever anybody deserved, ex-gratia awards, it would be these unknown men and women—firemen and women, farmers and fishing people, factory workers, hospital workers, construction workers and others---who get up every day and go out there to take care of all of us. We should, together, take care of them.

Let us move forward—together—in whichever bus or boat we find ourselves in—to be build truly—A BETTER GHANA.

Source: Arthur Kobina Kennedy